Intro: The existing framework is inadequate. Still you want to push it on tech. We understand the fact that regulations will always run after tech, right? But instead of the government sitting with stakeholders in the tech ecosystem to discuss and understand what is exactly going on so that they can build a framework that fits perfectly into what is going on. What they do, they slap taxes. They tell you to pay a fee for license. They just want to collect money from you.
Oluwanifemi Kolawole: That's a discussion on the June 14 episode of the Techpoint African podcast. I was reacting to the news that Kenya legislators silently passed a draft bill in the parliament to regulate tech practitioners in the country. Unsurprisingly, a few days after, Nigeria's technology regulator, NITDA unveiled something similar, a code of practice for online platforms.
Usually situations like these incite reactions from stakeholders, especially in the law tech space where policy experts make sense of such bills before engaging lawmakers and citizens. And those are a few of this week's expert's duties whom you'll find out about in a moment.
Selina Onyando: Most times in the work that I do, what I see is that there's often an ecosystem disconnect, right? Where what the policymakers want to do is one thing, but what tech practitioners want to do is another. Often, when laws are being made, tech practitioners are left out of the process.
My name is Selina. My second name is Onyando. Fun fact, there's a river in Western Kenya called River Nyando. So I've always told people that it's where my people come from, but that's not true.
OK: Welcome To another episode of expert and African, where we spotlight African tech specialists and their journey from newbie to experts. In this episode, Kenyan lawyer, Selina Onyando shares what it's like to be a tech policy analyst in Africa.
SO: I am a lawyer by profession and I'm currently working as a tech policy analyst. I've been in this space for about, three years now.
OK: Asides from a law degree. Selina also has a postgraduate diploma in law and she recently completed the CopyrightX program offered by the Harvard school of law. and she's also upskilling for her other interests.
SO: Learning for me is an endless journey. I started reading at quite a young age. In fact, as early as 12, I would get books as birthday gifts. Books about everything really. I think for my 12th birthday I got a book about dinosaurs, which was interesting. And then for 13, I got Robinson Crusoe, which was a book that I really enjoyed reading.
OK: Selina is proud of how she keeps improving all her skills, something that has helped her build physical, mental, and emotional strength.
SO: During my free time. I enjoy photography. I have a passion for the arts. I also did enjoy sports I did swim a bit, played football quite a bit in primary school and high school. I was very good, not to blow my own trumpet.
OK: Like football, Selina picked up photography at a young age. She was already taking shots of people and places as early as nine. All this lead up to why she decided to become a lawyer.
SO: I wanted to be a change maker. I wanted to be someone who makes a difference. For me, the quest for justice really is something that, has been in me from the values that have been imparted, to me, from my family and my friends.
OK: In a recap of her journey, Selina recalls her parents' impact.
SO: My parents have been a huge influence, for me. The learnings that they've shared and impacted to me, they are some values that I uphold, very dearly and those are things I translate also in the work that I do. Things around equality, which are things that you see are very foundational principles in the law making process or policy making process.
OK: And everything points to what drives her.
SO: It's one quote I always live by and I've really started to take it seriously this first half of the year, which is progress over perfection. Doing it is better than not doing it at all. Trying something new, learning a new skill. You don't get better by not trying. You get better by trying over and over and over until you're comfortable. So failure is part of the process and progress is better than perfection.
OK: Here's an interesting twist to Selina's story, one of her favorite interests actually led her into tech.
She stumbled into the tech space when trying to decide what industry she would choose after completing her law degree.
Towards the end of 2018, I was doing a lot of photography work alongside my law degree as I was coming to the end of the law degree. And I met a friend of mine in Egypt, and he introduced me to a space he was working at at the time. it was an accelerator here in Nairobi and they needed a photographer very urgently. In fact, he called me on a Friday and they needed a photographer for Saturday morning.
OK: Typical of her, she took advantage of an opportunity to show her skills.
SO: So I quickly charged my gear and I was there, on Saturday morning for what was a hackathon. I had never heard of hackathons before, I didn't know how they operated. And I was there for two days, documenting the process of what it looks like to build shelter tech solutions. And I was very intrigued by the tech space.
OK: What happened next confirmed how Selina and their accelerator's values aligned right from the first meet. She spent the next six months with the organization documenting their processes. She calls it an eye opener because it gave her access to a rich network of people, in tech, a chance to attend more hackathons and popular tech events while getting familiarized with the law tech space, especially with lawyers building tech solutions. But there's more.
SO: I ended up stumbling in a hackathon myself, but the interesting part was that this was a legal tech hackathon. So I thought that this would be perfect for me because then I could apply my legal skills and my creative thinking and design thinking skills as well.
OK: At this point, Selina was confident about where she belonged. And in September 2019, she went for a new challenge in law tech. In a way, she probably saw it coming since she was an undergraduate.
SO: I'd be honest, I wasn't very attracted to the traditional forms of law. I always thought that times were changing very rapidly and that there was more than what we would learn in school, or more than what people would do in the traditional space. I would be more attracted actually, when I was in uni to, the courses that were not what everyone was doing.
OK: Describing her current role.
SO: I work with a team of very talented professionals to support, the law and technology ecosystem by improving the capacity of policymakers to engage in the policy-making process, improving the capacity of the public to challenge, laws that are not beneficial and, supporting ecosystem players, to disseminate, laws and policies, on a larger scale to ensure that the public can better engage.
OK: Selina adds how her traveling experiences as an undergraduate are currently helping our understand the policy-making process, and uniqueness of different climes.
Acknowledging how the kind of environment and schools she grew up in have inspired her to think beyond what is attainable, Nairobi-born and raised Selina says all the experiences now come in handy in her job as a tech policy analyst.
She boast of having an eye for detecting even the most obscured details that everyone could have missed when going through a document, but it hasn't always been like that.
Policy reviews and analysis can be overwhelming. And that was what Selina initially felt. However, with a supportive team, she was able to make her mistakes, learn from them and get better. On the other hand, she's not afraid to ask for help.
For starters, Selina explains the various forms that law tech can take, which includes advisory, litigation, policy and building products for legal purposes. And she goes ahead to defend why she has a stronger conviction for policy.
SO: I'd argue the policy space is the most foundational space. Because you cannot exist in a vacuum as a technology practitioner. You need to have rules and regulations that guide your dealings. Away from you as a technology practitioner, tech is now coming into a lot of the things that we do on our day-to-day, in our communities, in our societies, so we need to have checks and balances that regulate how this tech is used so as to not abuse the rights of individuals. Preparing laws and policies that support the ability for tech businesses to set up and run in countries. That is what the policy landscape looks like.
OK: In an ideal situation, policymakers engage stakeholders in the tech space to understand what it entails before coming up with laws and policies. And once the laws are drafted, they are reviewed to help advise these lawmakers on their practicality.
Now, here's Selina's expertise, depending on the situation she reviews policy drafts to find out loopholes.
Another part is researching what is suitable for a particular society. Because laws are sometimes imported from other jurisdictions with a totally different legal landscape. This research also